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Words With Power

Words With Power: Being a Second Study of 'The Bible and Literature'

Edited by Michael Dolzani
Volume: 26
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Words With Power
    Book Description:

    Words with Poweris the crowning achievement of the latter half of Northrop Frye's career. Portions of the work can be found in Frye's notebooks as far back as the mid-1960s when he had just finishedAnatomy of Criticism, and he completed the book shortly before his death in 1991. Beyond summing up his ideas about the relation of the Bible to Western culture, Words with Power boldly confronts a host of questions ranging from the relationship between literature and ideology to the real meaning of words like 'spirit' and 'faith.'

    The first half of the 'double mirror' structure looks at the language in which the Bible is written, arguing that it is identical to that of myth and metaphor. Frye suggests, therefore, that given this characteristic, the Bible should be read imaginatively rather than historically or doctrinally. However, he is also careful to point out the ways in which the Bible is more than a conventional work of fiction. The second half is an astonishing tour de force in which Frye demonstrates how both the Bible and literature revolve around four primary concerns of human life.

    This edition goes beyond the original in its documentation of Frye's dazzlingly encyclopedic range of reference. Profound and searching, Words with Power is perhaps the most daring book of Frye's career and one of the most exciting.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8964-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Editor’s Introduction
    (pp. xix-4)

    “I have never understood the association of maturity with the limiting of ambitions. The older I get, the more reckless my books get” (LN, 1: 384). Northrop Frye recorded this statement in one of theLate Notebooks, composed during the time he was working onWords with Power.He labelled it as intended for the “Introduction”: it was meant not as a private remark but as something to be communicated at the outset to his readers. In the actual introduction, he decided not to speak in the first person, instead quoting Italo Calvino as saying that “Literature remains alive only...

  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 5-6)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 7-18)

    This book continues the study begun in a book published some years ago calledThe Great Code, subtitled “The Bible and Literature.” The significance of the “and” was that I was not attempting to isolate the literary features of the Bible, or deal with “The Bible as Literature.” There were already many books on that subject. I wanted to suggest how the structure of the Bible, as revealed by its narrative and imagery, was related to the conventions and genres of Western literature. As a preliminary investigation of Biblical structure and typology alone took up a whole book, I promised...

  8. PART ONE Gibberish of the Vulgate

    • CHAPTER ONE Sequence and Mode
      (pp. 21-41)

      May I begin where I have so often begun, with the fact that when we read (or otherwise examine) a verbal structure, our attention is going in two directions at once. One direction is centripetal, trying to make sense of the words we are reading: the other is centrifugal, gathering up from memory the conventional meanings of the words used in the world of language outside the work being read. This relation of signifiers to signifieds is variable, and the variants develop into different kinds of verbal structures, and different emphases in meaning. I am calling these variants modes, a...

    • CHAPTER TWO Concern and Myth
      (pp. 42-67)

      Our starting point here is the word “myth,” in its common and popular sense of a story (mythos), usually about gods, and usually referred back to a remote past. I am still emphasizing (I will not use the word “privileging”) the narrative aspect of literature. The typical myths just mentioned arise in the earlier stages of social development, before the verbal controls of logic and evidence are firmly established. Literary criticism is mainly confined to the era of written documents, so that oral and premythical cultures have to be passed over here.

      To recapitulate briefly what was said inThe...

    • CHAPTER THREE Identity and Metaphor
      (pp. 68-94)

      Literature is an art of words, and the student of it may be interested primarily either in the art or in the words. If his interest is in the words, drawing him in the direction of linguistics and semiotics, the ordinary boundary terms that we commonly use within verbal structures begin to dissolve. We find it increasingly difficult to separate, by definition, literature from criticism, criticism from philosophy or history, or philosophy and history from any other type of verbal communication. All we have are the shifting relations of signifiers to signifieds that we surveyed in the first chapter. If...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Spirit and Symbol
      (pp. 95-126)

      We have been avoiding the word “religion,” which so far has turned up mainly in the context of ideology. The many religions of the world belong to an even larger group of ideologies: the majority of them accept a specific mythological background and then translate it into a conceptual doctrine that is to be believed (quid credas). Belief then bears fruit in the actions or lifestyle of the believer (quid agas).¹ At the centre of this belief is a sacred area of ritual acts: in Christianity these include going to church, receiving the sacraments, prayer, etc. Such acts are, in...

  9. PART TWO Variations on a Theme

    • Prefatory Note
      (pp. 129-132)

      InThe Great CodeI spoke of the traditional Christian view of the Old Testament as a set of “types” of which the new Testament provides the “antitypes,” the types being the symbols and the antitypes the realities. It should be clear by now that this type–antitype distinction is closely parallel in shape to the mythical–kerygmatic relationship just expounded. But we obviously cannot say that the Old Testament is all type and the New Testament all antitype, or that there are no types except in the Old Testament and no antitypes except in the New. The New Testament,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE First Variation: The Mountain
      (pp. 133-166)

      The Bible, we are suggesting, demands the active and creative response that the imagination makes to literature and mythology; the faith it calls for must be able to accept divergences from historical fact as one of its conditions. The Bible also concentrates on the existential form of “myths to live by”: there is a minimum ofspeculativemythopoeia, or efforts to explain or rationalize things in mythical terms. We can see this at a glance if we turn from the New Testament to the Gnostic writers who are contemporary or slightly later, with their catalogues of demons and angels, their...

    • CHAPTER SIX Second Variation: The Garden
      (pp. 167-198)

      Let us now turn to the second or Jahwist creation myth, the one that starts in Genesis 2:4. This myth, like the P myth, has seven episodes, consisting of six acts and a final characterization. Not being explicitly fitted into the scheme of the week, they are not counted so frequently, but here they are:

      1. Creation of a “mist” (Septuagint, “fountain”) out of dry ground. The earth and heavens seem to be already in existence, if in a still chaotic form.

      2. Creation of the “adam” or soul-body human unit (not the proper name of a masculine being until...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Third Variation: The Cave
      (pp. 199-232)

      We have been looking at two major aspects of the relation of this world to a metaphorically higher world of intensified consciousness and experience. One of these aspects puts the emphasis on wisdom and the word, the other on love and the spirit. The relation as a whole is represented by some form ofaxis mundi, one of the metaphors that inform and arrange reality around primary human concerns. We have now to consider the images of the relation of this world to a lower world. Here again we shall find both an enlarging and an expanding of consciousness, corresponding...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Fourth Variation: The Furnace
      (pp. 233-266)

      We have been outlining three groups of images of theaxis mundi. Two of them, so far as they relate to the Bible, seem to be linked to the P and J accounts of creation respectively. The third, the imagery of descent from the surface of the earth, begins with the story of the fall of Adam and Eve attached to the J account, where humanity descends into a cyclical order of nature and a political cycle of oppression and revolt. The political cycle begins symbolically with the murder of Abel and the exile of Cain. There seems to be...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 267-308)
  11. Emendations
    (pp. 309-312)
  12. Scriptural Passages Cited
    (pp. 313-318)
  13. Index
    (pp. 319-343)